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HTML5 vs. Flash: The state of the debate

Ryan Boudreaux looks at some of the latest browser support numbers for HTML5 and Flash. Are you a partisan for either? Here are Ryan's thoughts on the state of the Flash vs. HTML5 debate.

The battle lines were drawn years ago, and the war continues among the staunch Flash developers who maintain their SWF swords, versus the inspired early adopter web developers who strike blows with their <canvas>, <article>, <video>, and <audio> tags, incorporating HTML5 and CSS3 into their web implementations.

The infographic, partially shown below (Figure B), by OneMoreLevel.com depicts the two sides against each other with a bent toward the gaming development industry, which historically has showed the slowest adoption rate for HTML5 technologies. And it's no surprise that Flash wins out in most categories, with a just a couple undecided.

Figure B

While the gaming industry continues to rave about Flash, there are a growing number of developers who are making inroads to adopting HTML5, but which is right for you?

According to this Periscope infographic, partially displayed in Figure C, you can see that the numbers, in terms of browser support, show Flash is still the hands-down winner with 99% of browsers utilizing the technology. The graphic also shows that HTML5 has made a lot of progress to reach 50% browser support, a big 10% gain from an initial analysis conducted a year ago. HTML5 is making consistent headway with adoption rates among browsers including mobile devices. There  is some debate on how the final statistics were calculated, however, as some commenters speculate that the total browser support for HTML5 may be more along the lines of 75% when you include partial support for certain elements of the technology.

Figure C

Features where HTML5 appears to be lacking when compared to Flash include a complete lack of support for Internet Explorer 8 and prior versions of IE, with IE 9 having a 56% support rate for the eight tested features. The eight features which were tested in HTML5 for the level of support are: 2D drawing (Canvas), Native 3D (WebGL2), SVG, Video, Audio, Filter Effects, File API, and Socket Connections.

Chrome version 17+ has the highest support rate for eight tested HTML5 features with 94% success, and Firefox version 10+ came in second with an 88% success rate. Third place was taken by Safari 5.1+ with a 75% success, and the final browser tested was IE9 at 56% success rate for the eight HTML5 features.

Is the HTML5 vs. Flash debate really a valid discussion? Was this all just a marketing ploy that Apple and Steve Jobs perpetrated as an alternative technology to the Adobe multimedia platform? The fact that Apple has embraced HTML5 as the open source web technology for their OS and web-enabled devices is no mistake; it meshes well with the exciting aspects of their technology and with the HTML5 Canvas and WebGL development in particular, which seems to show new and electrifying advancements on a daily basis for web developers. What effect does the "Apple / Flash" controversy have on either HTML5 or Flash? Maybe the argument comes down more to a new open web technology versus plug-in permitted software.

If you are in the gaming industry, then Flash is still your best friend, and for other web developers, incorporating more HTML5 into their websites and designs is still an exciting new technology with its own rewards. Seems to me that both sides of the "debate" are winners, and there really are no losers.

As HTML5 continues to gain ground in overall browser support, where do you see it in the next year or two? How about five years from now? If HTML5 continues to gain browser support at ten percent per year, do the math, and it will not be long before the technology will be supported across the browser spectrum.

About

Ryan has performed in a broad range of technology support roles for electric-generation utilities, including nuclear power plants, and for the telecommunications industry. He has worked in web development for the restaurant industry and the Federal g...

29 comments
kchimwanda
kchimwanda

I use HTML 5 in almost all my web design projects. This doesn't stop me from using Flash where i see fit. Apparently, I am have a site that a new client decided to redo after I demonstrated her on how Flash can lure her site visitors. Guess what, the client is an Apple addict. She uses an Iphone, Ipad & a macbook? You may choose to take these technologies for enemies but they actually do compliment each other at least for now.

randywood
randywood

I post videos for a small non-profit each week. I use flash (.FLV). Currently, to achieve the same results using html5, I would have to add MP4, OGV, and WEBM to the mix, costing both massive server space to get the same results, and increase my upload time by about 500+%. Until there IS a video standard in html5 - one standard, not the everybody does their own thing standard - I vote for the convenience of flash. People who buy iPads, etc., KNOW that their web experience will be crippled. If they're satisfied with the half of the web they cannot see, so be it. I'll stick to REAL computers that aren't crippleware out of the box.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

G'day, I don't have a preference for Flash over HTML 5 or of HTML 5 over Flash. But, having worked in a few high security gateways and other security areas I do have a very strong fear of the various vulnerabilities in Flash and the many ways it can be used to slip in all sorts of malware and other code. Like a lot of secure business areas, my personal systems are set NOT to run Flash until AFTER the whole code has been checked out by the AV software and I've given it a personal 'go ahead.' This even relates to those lovely little Flash greeting cards everyone else sends around. Some of you would be surprised, and some wouldn't, about the number of times my AV gives back a message that the Flash file code can not be properly scanned or it has some suspected nasty in it. The end result is I rarely run anything using Flash at all, and the quickest way to get me to exit a web site is to have it heavy with fancy Flash graphics to make it look 'nice' and give me a headache - I even do that when access a site from another's machine. Too much Flash or fancy BS and I'm gone and taking my business to another site. I suspect the security concerns will be an ongoing issue with Flash unless they make it a fully open source project and hand over all the code - something I doubt will happen. Regards, Ernest

travelcare_chris
travelcare_chris

Flash is on the way down as HTML5/JQuery are on their way up. I have no doubt that eventually HTML & Javascript will be capable of everything Flash is currently doing. Expert coders are finding new tricks all the time. As the new technology becomes more and more accepted, someone (probably Adobe) will make new software that will make it easy for anyone to create fully interactive sites using all of these new features in a cozy GUI. Those with a less technical/aesthetic background will begin making content everywhere on the net and users will begin blocking Javascript. The market will demand something new as ugly and poorly coded sites begin making an eyesore of the internet in spite of many good examples of proper coding. Some new language will come out and replace Javascript or something will redefine the browser in a groundbreaking way and the cycle will begin again.

john.hyaduck
john.hyaduck

If you prefer flash (boo!) over html 5 (Itastic!) then you are a mean, cruel, puppy-hating, backward, brutish, boor. How can you live with yourself. Daddy, can I get the new IPAD-9 that just came out? Yes, kitten...

stykat
stykat

In my opinion HTML was meant for easy display of information, while flash was made for rich web applications that include animations and user interactivity. Flash is made by Apple a company that sells commercial products including the software to design flash applications ( with the exception of the Actionscript language that you can use freely) while HTML was made open source by a W3C. HTML depends on the browser (the program that interprets the language) where Flash depends more on the platform that apple is programming. Probably if the web browser programmers would work more on supporting HTML then it would work better although the language itself and the standards are changing a lot. Also the performance of FLASH depends on Apple programming the platform where HTML's performance depends on the browser itself. HTML appeared only a few years ago and it's really the only version implementing features like FLASH. So far i don't see why the two should be compared as they where meant for two different things but maybe W3C has different plans regarding HTML. Speaking about compatibility,if you can update FLASH on your platform it's more likely you can update your browser as well and it's compatibility with other languages. I prefer to use HTML and CSS for web design and JAVA for web applications simply because i feel more comfortable with them. Probably FLASH should be compared to JAVA.

QuantumEntanglement
QuantumEntanglement

HTML 5 is a false messiah - sure, there will always be web applications, but they'll be relegated to the mediocre and mundane things like consumer sites that (yawn) can settle for embracing the lowest common denominator. An overwhelming amount of data has already established that the traditional web is dying, replaced by that which is already becoming dominant - a trend that's now unstoppable - the move to cloud-enabled native applications. Yes, FT did an HTML5 application. No one cared. Facebook did an HTML5 application. Usage? Near zero and it's release was followed by an increased usage of third-party native applications. Should be obvious by now, that the major players, despite HTML5 lip-service, have no real wish to see it succeed, nor should it, for catering to the lowest common denominator means setting aside their greatest means of diffferentiation (and therefore, opportunity) - the continuing evolution of native platforms. iOS? All about native applications. Windows 8? All about native applications. Android - well Android is dying, so...

Balachandra_t
Balachandra_t

I heard that adobe has stopped giving any new updates or upgrades(plugins etc) in flash. So it is definitely a dying technology. More so, smart phones do not support flash. So flash is definitely fading away. But since most browsers do support then maybe it will stay in the market for a few years but one cannot definitely bank one's future on flash.

Fravio
Fravio

But, I'm still wondering if HTML 5 can do something like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ed_2i5grQHk&feature=related Ok, ok, it's not Flash, it's Silverlight, but a compiled code w/ hw acceleration is a compiled code w/ hw acceleration. HTML 5 video still don't have a real definition, each browser supports the video codec they want. JS development tools are still poor. How can we take js over C# or AS?How can we stop using Visual Studio with all of it's features and the power of C# and VB and all the Flash and Flex tools to code just JS? I'm still waiting for some more viable and concrete from HTML 5.

davidmartinomalley
davidmartinomalley

Are you analyzing the state of the debate or the state of each perspective technology? The former is easy: It's still acrimonious, with a lot of "I told you so" and " sucks". Seriously, tech debates make Congress look like the epitome of reason and balanced argument. Now, the technologies are a little more complicated. HTML 5 isn't ready for prime time, and it's blatantly clear that Adobe isn't positioning Flash for anything more than video. There's no point in investing further in Flash, and we just have to hope that the respective companies stay in line to bring us the best HTML 5 tools to get the best experiences to our customers. As for video over HTML 5 - if there's a clear path to completion of this, I can't see it. If Adobe stopped developing the Flash player today, it would still take HTML 5 about three years to catch up. Still, you just have to follow the money when predicting the future. HTML 5 will be big, Adobe makes developer productivity tools, they own the Flash platform, so if they don't develop it, no one will. Adobe really wants to sell the "Media" publishing platform, with the choice of the end product being Flash, Quicktime or HTML 5 (or all of the above). It's a pragmatic view by Adobe. There's no point in holding back the tide, and they know it.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Advantage; HTML5 (what with a new vuln found in Flash almost weekly) I know.. HTML5 will take it's beating. I'm just hoping the browsers and security researchers can keep up with vulnerability discovery and patching. They gotta be able to do a better job than Adobe's done with Flash and it's other addon ilk.

Contradiction
Contradiction

Honestly, is there any doubt on anyones minds that at some point flash will simply cease to exist? This is like people desperately hanging on to their Windows XP computers, when theres Windows 7 out there. These are the same people that hang on to their Windows 98 computers when Windows XP was out there. Its called "moving on with the times". Flash is hanging on to the edge of the cliff and HTML5 is giving it the "this little piggy" routine. Flash is dead, it just hasnt fallen yet. Its only a matter of time. http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

But the final entry (browser/plug-in) looks like Flash has the advantage, but I'd say HTML5 has that advantage. Otherwise I agree with it... Oh, Flash has the cooler logo, too (by far...) Steve Jobs knew that Flash games were free and plentiful. How do you compete with "free"? The "Walled garden" analogy is succinct and successful as a description. Lure them in and then close the door. Would you play Canabalt for free? Or spend $4 for it, knowing that $1.20 of that purchase went directly to Apple? After all, plenty of iPhone games drain the battery very fast as well. If Jobs' rant was about battery life, he's allowed a nifty double-standard in his controlled environment about what exceptions are allowed to drain his battery... Stability? The 3GS had a couple issues back in the day... Security? Don't try to jailbreak your iphone, go to PWN2OWN to look at the number of times they've broken into even unjailbroken iphones (e.g. the SMS database), etc... Once again, Jobs embellished because he knew Flash was a threat to him and he doesn't like competition. So much for "free market" philosophy there... And does Apple deserve that much from every sale? Did they make 30% of the game?

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

making web pages. It looks nice and fancy with the pretty pictures everywhere, a pity the three columns of brickwork don't match edges nicely. Also the text of the main message is totally unreadable against that background except for the very dark black text heading. Now, a programmer would at least have had a page that could convey the information in a way that it could be read. And this is why you need a programmer to create the page and an art director to approve the look when it's finished. But have art directors create the pages means you end up with bloated, overloaded, unreadable garbage like this one. It's obvious whoever did the page did NOT take into account that some people use personalised settings in their browsers for specific reasons - try thinking about disabled compatibility settings and the like.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

people to playback flash files properly by not providing newer updates except for Windows. This is already leading to some people going away from a site because they can't see what's in the Flash black square.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

so that people need weekly upgrades, which is why a lot of people are blocking it. Also the fact it's used as a delivery platform for malware is another reason for people to avoid flash.

belli_bettens
belli_bettens

Flash is compared with html because it's both client-side. Comparing flash with Java is more far-off because java is server-side: If you want to create the same visual content with java you still have to reside to something like flash or html5/javascript (even if your html/javascript-code is generated by java). Can you see now how this discussion started? :-) Try to look at it from a different angle, not as 'who made flash' or 'html is meant for'.

Ndiaz.fuentes
Ndiaz.fuentes

It's made by Adobe. It was originally made by Macromedia, but Adobe bought them.

belli_bettens
belli_bettens

The reason why companies like Facebook prefer native apps over html5 is because inside a native app, they are able to serve you more tailored advertisements based on the personal information that is stored in your phone. It's harder to steal your data through an html website. So in a way you're right, it's a restriction, but is that the kind of restriction you personally want to favor native apps for? Besides, this article is about html5 vs flash. Not html5 vs mobile apps...

belli_bettens
belli_bettens

Building a site like you've shown in your youtube example is totally possible with html5 :-) There are plenty of good javascript libraries out there and choosing one isn't harder then choosing between C# or VB.Net: it's what works best for you. I know that javascript doesn't provide the functionality you would like it to have out of the box but neither does C#, does it? You still need SilverLight or some other framework to accomplish stuff like that, just as you'll need a specific jQuery extension (for example) when you want to do it in javascript. Here's a cool example of what you can do with javascript (using Ext JS): http://dev.sencha.com/deploy/ext-4.1.0-gpl/examples/desktop/desktop.html Enough said? :-) And there are plenty of good javascript development tools, but of course there isn't one standard tool like Visual Studio, because javascript isn't a proprietary language. You can simply use Eclipse if you want, sounds like a professional tool to me... You can keep on waiting forever on something concrete from html5 if you are unable to recognize it when it's staring at you from your browser window. Of course there won't be a big HTML5 label on top of every html5 website but that doesn't mean it's not out there...

RudHud
RudHud

If you look at IE6's history, you'll see that this security and standards disaster remained common in the wild for five years after it was superseded, with a 9% market-share as late as mid-2011. This was caused merely by user inertia. IE8, on the other hand, will remain the default browser on many old machines, as MS blocks IE9 upgrades on older platforms.

spdragoo
spdragoo

They're probably considering that, since you only need a single SWF file to run a Flash-based game, rather than multiple files for HTML 5, it makes it easier to deploy & install -- not to mention allowing for better embedding of the game into a particular website. Not to mention that, by having everything in a single file, SWF gets the benefit of "all or nothing": if you download the file, then (as long as the file hasn't been corrupted) you simply "click and shoot", versus the "did that ZIP file leave out file X & Y, or maybe this other ZIP file is missing file G", etc. As for the rest, I'm staying out of it, as I'm assuming the general discussion is meant to be as platform-generic as possible...

davidmartinomalley
davidmartinomalley

HTML 5 will change Apples business model too. Have you seen the Financial Times "app" for the iPhone? It's a HTML 5 site, and it's not an app. Rather, the FT wants you to add an icon to the home screen and access the site directly, circumventing the app store altogether. There'll be more of this, as HTML 5 matures. So, if "apps" are positive differentiators for the Apple devices and platform, and if HTML 5 circumvents the app store, what's the selling point? Once the Android phones fully embrace HTML5, the "app" experience will be portable across devices. Then what for Apple?

belli_bettens
belli_bettens

I think you have absolutely no clue of how html/javascript works... There is no file requirement at all! I can (and do) make very complex webapps purely in html and javascript using only one file: Just put your Javascript code in the html-file and alter the page content dynamically with Javascript. There is only one drawback if you really have a lot of code: loading times. If you pack all your code into one html/javascript file, it will take longer to load. So it's better to only load (download) certain pieces at the moment they are really needed. And that, my friend, is the advantage (!) over flash: it loads faster and you can choose whether to use one file or many files. So essentially, you were trying to highlight a drawback of html (regarding file size) when in fact you were pointing out it's benefit. Apart from that, have you ever encountered a (html5) website that needs zip files to work???

spdragoo
spdragoo

Or did you think that they didn't have anything stored on the server...like, say, for this page you responded to? Not to mention that, for every image on the page that isn't using an HTML5 tag to draw the figure directly on the screen, you have to have a [b]separate[/b] file for the page to load up...and even then, some takes ("video", for example), still require the [b]separate[/b] video file (whether you're simply "stealing" the link to someone else's server, or hosting it on the same server where your page is stored). And while the Javascript itself doesn't have to be in a separate file from the page, [b]any files it has to call on to render the content would be stored separately[/b]. Templates? Separate. Icons? Separate. 2D (or even 3D) images? Separate. So, yes, there [b]is[/b] still a benefit for Flash: the fact that it has a single, stand-alone file that can not only be accessed via a webpage, but can also be downloaded & accessed [b]as a single file[/b].